How a New York City Restaurant Loses Money on a $14 Sandwich

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Like many restaurants, New York’s Dirt Candy was a different business before the pandemic. With a staff of 35, it served only a tasting menu (plus a half-dozen a la carte items available at the bar), guests leisurely eating courses of fennel tagine, seaweed caviar with creme fraiche, or beet yakitori. “The food [at] Dirt Candy doesn’t lend itself to delivery,” owner Amanda Cohen said in the spring of 2020, unsure when she’d be able to reopen. “We would’ve had to come up with a new menu.”

That’s exactly what she did. Since July 2020, Cohen and a much smaller crew of six have produced intricate soups (fava bean bouillabaisse), salads (pomelo and watercress), and sandwiches for takeout and delivery, and opened limited dine-in service on a street patio. Now that the staff is fully vaccinated, Dirt Candy is scheduled to reopen for lunch and dinner on May 20. Starting on the 21st, the takeout/delivery menu will only be available during the day. Here’s what it costs to make the $14 spinach croque-monsieur: a slice of country loaf topped with spinach bechamel; thinly sliced celeriac that’s been smoked and confited in olive oil; shredded gruyere; sauteed spinach; more spinach bechamel; grainy mustard; another slice of bread, smothered with a third layer of spinach bechamel; spinach puree; and more shredded gruyere, all popped into the oven until the cheese is bubbling and browning, and topped with an egg sunny side up. It’s been a popular item on Dirt Candy’s pandemic menu, but it also requires a lot of hidden work.

Menu price: $14

Total cost to the restaurant: $14.80
Profit (pickup): -$0.80 (loss)
Profit (delivery): -$2.92 to -$2.48 (loss)
Profit (outdoor dining): $0.90 (profit)

Food Costs: $3.45

Bread: $0.48
Bechamel: $0.27
Gruyere: $0.71
Celeriac: $0.34
Spinach (sauteed): $0.30
Spinach puree: $0.03
Grainy mustard: $0.05
Fried egg: $0.14
Butter: $0.03
Cornichon: $0.01
Packaging: $1.10